To understand what Visual Studio (often abbreviated to VS) is, it helps to go back a few years in time and see what came before it.
FrontPage and Visual InterDev
If you wanted to publish a website using Microsoft software, your choice a few years ago was either to use FrontPage (the Microsoft equivalent to DreamWeaver) or Visual InterDev, a development tool which was clunky to use. The technology used was Active Server Pages, which took data from (say) a SQL Server database and allowed you to publish it as HTML.
Visual Basic 6.0
If, on the other hand, you wanted to develop a forms application to run on a client computer, with no website in sight, your Microsoft product of choice would be Visual Basic 6.0.
Reports in SQL Server
Finally, if you wanted to create and publish reports based on SQL Server data, most people chose to use either Crystal reports or other third-party products such as ActiveReports from Data Dynamics.
On 13th February 2002 Microsoft released the.NET framework version 1.0 (the latest version is now 4.0). This provides a set of common classes which developers can use. For example, if you want to set a textbox background colour to pink, you can type in:
me.txtBox.BackColor = System.Drawing.Color.Pink
In this context, Pink belongs in the System.Drawing.Color namespace.
At about the same time, Microsoft released Visual Studio, an all-encompassing development tool. However, although the interface is similar whatever you're doing, it really enables you to do 3 (or more) completely separate things. You can use VS to create:
- websites, using ASP.NET, the.NET successor to Active Server Pages
- Windows Forms applications, using Visual either Basic or Visual C # (the successors to Visual Basic 6.)
- Report server projects, allowing you to publish reports based on SQL Server data to your company's Intranet
Most people would thus only use Visual Studio for one purpose, although the author does actually use all 3 types of application.
Visual Studio Versions
If you want to buy VS, the latest version is 2010, but you could use VS 2005 or VS 2008 without losing too much functionality. You can also download Visual Studio Express from the Microsoft website, which for most developers will work perfectly well – and has the advantage of being free!
So that's Visual Studio: a 3-in-1 software application, allowing you to develop websites, forms-based applications and reports!